“I have a serious bone to pick with certain Neanderthal type “purists” who insist that certain risk elements be incorporated into their training to ensure authenticity and martial integrity.”
Ran (chaos) + dori (taking or grasping) equals randori, a specialized aspect of training employed by several martial arts systems, including Aikido, which is crafted to further develop technical proficiency, a heightened situational awareness, and hopefully, a growing ability to maintain “sangfroid” (unruffled coolness) during stressful training, as well as in real time situations.
Randori can be performed by two individuals, or by having several individuals apply various levels and styles of pressuring attacks to the nage, the designated attackee. The goal is not necessarily to triumph, but to primarily persevere throughout the ordeal, emerging with a more enhanced experience, and a more confirmed sense of self knowledge, and of self confidence. Real confidence in both the self and in one’s training partners is a true win-win scenario in randori.
In the highest sense, it is a celebration of genuine accomplishment for all involved, from those who successfully develop better skills for giving realistic attacks, as well as for those who need to deal effectively with such novel and intense scrutiny of their skill levels, not to mention, of course, their respective abilities to remain cool under fire.
In Aikido, we can acknowledge a wide and definitely diverse range of methods and attitudes to the role of randori in everyday training. Randori kyogi can specifically refer to “sports training”, using the medium of clearly defined methods and goals of implementing, and benefitting from this competitive randori style of training. Although the Founder himself, Morihei Ueshiba, is said to have unconditionally condemned this form of training in “his” aikido, there are schools that regularly promote its use and extol its virtues. Perhaps it can be a matter of degree, but even without formal rules and guidelines for the existence of “competitive aikido”, we do find in existence many levels of formats with intensity intended, and the affirmative support for realistic randori training. Perhaps the rationale is to promote more original and useful skills development of the serious student, via the various forms and interpretations of modern aikido training today.
An important point of this article is to examine the true nature and purpose for engaging in randori training, regardless of style, provenance or format. Are we deriving real, measurable, and generally beneficial results from such training? Are the students themselves really achieving real and measurable improvement in their desired skill levels, as well as for developing quantifiable increases in competence and self confidence? Most of all, do they truly come to appreciate that randori training is personally satisfying, and a valued aspect of their overall training in Aikido?
What should the mental focus be while engaged in randori? Must it be primarily a result of training obsessively to be the last person standing, outlasting any and all attempts to humiliate or subjugate the spirit? Should it be the capstone of technical excellence, finishing an examination routine that also proves one’s mastery of fundamental skills and basic techniques? Or is it about maintaining a sense of control, knowing that one is never in true danger of injury or embarrassment, due largely to an unspoken or unwritten understanding agreed to beforehand by all parties concerned? Is it ultimately merely a performance, a tightly controlled shadow of what a real situation should seem like? Security issues are crucially important, but to what extent should policy be contrived to ensure that all parties are safe, from both real harm and from unwanted and unintended legal liability?
Valid and debatable questions appropriately arise as to the need for, the nature of, and the proven justification for the emphases placed on randori training. Are the desired goals being achieved across the board for the majority of the students? Are the risk factors accurately being calculated to minimize injuries, both physical and psychological, and found to be reasonably acceptable? What level of students, age and experience wise, are the most eligible for this form of training, and which ones are not? Each dojo and system of training needs to develop prudent, acceptable and appropriate answers to these and other related questions for themselves, and for their constituents.
I have a serious bone to pick with certain Neanderthal type “purists” who insist on preserving, and even requiring that certain risk elements be incorporated into their regular training, to ensure traditional authenticity and martial integrity in such Aikido training. They say that in order to regain respect and acknowledgment of Aikido as a genuine and effective martial art, certain elements of the Founder’s reputed fighting skills, and proven theories of internal power, need to be re-introduced, and made an integral aspect of modern Aikido training. This may be an interpretation that has merit, but not remotely consistent with the Founder’s constant admonition that his Aikido is not about fighting, but rather of building pathways to harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships. We are admittedly free to develop an aikido style consistent with our personal visions and goals. We must also then acknowledge the similar right of others to interpret the Founder’s gift and legacy in ways they too find suitable to adopt and to follow.
This especially holds true for the purpose and manner of the “randori” training that they ultimately choose to promote, and to espouse for themselves and for their constituents.
Nonetheless, are traditional practices and time honored values being unintentionally, or even deliberately undermined, and perhaps devalued by the perceived necessity to make certain compromises in today’s training? And, by which authority or under what agency should we fairly and uniformly acknowledge that would comprehensively and fairly address these questions, and to provide meaningful and acceptable answers, alternate viewpoints and solutions?
For me, none of the issues presented above are as pressing, or as intrinsically important as the necessary acknowledgement of the real risks of intense randori training to each student, and the need for a fully informed mind set each participant must develop prior to participating in any and all manner of randori training. I have personally encountered no small amounts of fear and reservations on the part of novices, and even experienced practitioners, to the very worrisome risks of physical injury, and to the real possibility of permanent harm to their health, and unwanted changes to their life styles. Persons who use their bodies for work are especially vulnerable to accidents and incidents unintended, and are understandably hesitant to freely commit to such a training environment. These concerns also need to be the concerns of dojo cho’s, administrators, and practitioners alike, and must be addressed appropriately and fully. Dojo and health insurance policies are woefully inadequate.
The notion that one can actually “triumph” and escape unscathed from such encounters boggles the mind of experience, and deserves to be securely locked away in the realm of fantasy and romance. Time is the final arbiter for all things human, and we must acknowledge that, as skills and body conditions continue to erode, the average person will eventually succumb to the inevitable reality factors of injury, unforeseen circumstance, and of well intentioned, but uncontrolled optimism.
Nay, I truly feel that the most appropriate and universally acceptable results of genuine and correctly supervised randori training must primarily be for enjoyment. We should definitely relish and celebrate the experience, not to emerge as victors, but as fortunate co-survivors and enlightened comrades in the search for excellence in daily training. What better way to “die trying”, than at the hands of, and the happy smiles from those with whom we share and endure so much together, our compassionate dojo mates and our treasured teachers.
Each successful randori experience can then become a “baptism” of sorts, allowing for a continuous succession, not of graduations, but of commencements towards truly exciting vistas of enhanced personal experience, for individually crafted martial skills development, and for individually selected targets for growth and personal satisfaction.
One size does not necessarily fit all, but one uniformly held commitment to mutual security, to maintaining command over one’s life, and to promote individual excellence, surely can.